The U.S Department of Defense currently employs about 2700 dogs overseas, with about 600 of them serving in conflict zones. These canine officers work alongside handlers as bomb detectors, messengers, sentries, and occasionally even Bin-laden trackers. Unfortunately, the military officially classifies them as ‘equipment’ which means that when it’s time to retire, the dogs struggle to make it back home.
It’s not that the dogs are abandoned. Not anymore, at least. Of the 4900 dogs that the U.S used in Vietnam, 1600 were euthanised and 2700 left behind, but after a bill signed in 2000, the dogs were allowed to be adopted. Instead, the army simply began to claim that the dogs were not worth the $2000 it would cost to fly them back home. When American dogs on an overseas base reached retirement age, they could be adopted by citizens willing to pony up the dog’s airfare. In an interview with CNN in 2012, Lackland Air Force Base spokesman Gerry Proctor explained the policy: "It is essentially the same as a government surplus sale. If the government has a surplus sale in Ramstein, Germany, and sells you a truck, then should the American taxpayer be on the hook to get that truck back to your house in Atlanta? The government doesn't own it once you buy it."
A year later, there seems to be progress - a section of the National Defence Authorization Act 2013 mentions that "if no suitable adoption is available at the military facility where the dog is located, the Secretary may transfer the dog to the 341st Training Squadron or to another location for adoption under this section." The ‘equipment’ tag still sticks though.
FALLOUT is a series of blog posts that explores the side effects of war.
Image: soldiersmediacentre via Wikimedia Commons